The Hateful Eight – A cabin full of strangers makes for Tarantino’s most intense ride yet

Finely crafted dialogue, uber-cool soundtrack, references galore, a perfect cast, and OTT violence: a Quentin Tarantino film is always easy to spot, no matter what genre the writer-director is in. Yet at first glance, Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) seems to be wildly different – a Western set in one location that is of a much slower pace. Don’t be fooled though…this is one of the most Tarantino-esque films so far, delivering all of his trademarks while also stepping in an exciting, sophisticated direction, resulting in a taut thriller that is one of Tarantino’s greatest works.

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Sweeping, snowy vistas accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s spine-tingling score is what greets us during The Hateful Eight’s majestic title sequence – another iconic Tarantino feature (just think of the slo-mo opening walk in Reservoir Dogs (1992), the airport travelator in Jackie Brown (1997), or the rocky terrain of Django Unchained (2012)). Giving the film an immediate sense of grandeur and event, it’s also very much Tarantino’s way of directly telling us that we are in for a real treat: a true Western of epic proportions and an unforgettable viewing experience.

Slowly making its way through that gorgeous snowy landscape is a stagecoach containing the bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his latest prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who are heading to Red Rock where she will be brought to justice. But a horrific blizzard soon puts a stop to that plan. Picking up some other unwanted passengers along the way, they stop for shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they meet a few more strange characters and Tarantino’s intricate tale really begins.

Tarantino takes time in his script to introduce each of these characters, building up their individual stories while also building up an undercurrent of issues around race, gender and politics amongst a backdrop of post-Civil War tensions. Instead of feeling like an essay on each though, he uses these to tease us with underlying hints about who these people really are, pulling us into the narrative as it becomes clear to John Ruth, and us, that one of the eight might be not just be there to try Minnie’s home-cooked stew. As lies are uncovered and tensions rise, The Hateful Eight becomes a thrilling, relentless ride, as well as a killer Western and a terrific whodunnit that always keeps us guessing.

John Ruth (Kurt Russell) meets Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson)...

And yet ‘tense’ is almost too soft a word to use to describe this. Using his familiar dialogue-filled scenes throughout the majority of the film, Tarantino amps up these moments tenfold, creating some of the most gripping cinematic moments you’re likely to see for a long while. His dialogue is as usual like music, words flowing beautifully back and forth between these pitch-perfect characters, each fleshed out by career-best performances from all involved. Particularly impressive is Jennifer Jason Leigh as the feisty, foul-mouthed Daisy and Kurt Russell as the terrifying bounty hunter, both of whom also work terrifically as a pair, handcuffed together for the majority of the film and sniping at each other like an old married couple. However it is Samuel L. Jackson who gives one of the most memorable performances as Major Marquis Warren, delivering speech after iconic speech with a cool yet horrifyingly menacing tone that sends shivers down your spine, especially in one disturbing scene that will stick in your mind for days after seeing this. It is without a doubt Jackson’s most iconic Tarantino character to date next to Jules from Pulp Fiction (1994).

If Tarantino’s words are the lyrics in the music then his direction is him conducting, something else he does perfectly throughout this. Along with his dialogue he knows just how to pace each scene, dragging out moments to breaking point as he builds an underlying sense of dread to keep us squirming in our seats, something that his trademark use of violence also does – an aspect that will have you visibly wincing, but that is often necessary to the plot (to mention why about one point in particular would completely give away part of the story though). That expert pacing also helps with his decision to never leave Minnie’s Haberdashery (apart from establishing scenes and a brief flashback) – a brave choice that he effortlessly pulls off. Similar to the minimal locations of Reservoir Dogs’ (1992) (my all-time favourite film), Tarantino’s flair for dialogue, plot and intensity fill the time perfectly, making you feel as if you’re on an epic, sprawling journey when in fact we barely leave the one room. It also helps that Minnie’s Haberdashery is so exquisitely designed. Light streams through the wooden slots of the cabin walls to create stunningly beautiful moments, with the lowered temperature of the set adding a pleasingly authentic touch to proceedings too. You can practically feel the freezing cold yourself as you watch the actors’ breath hang in the air.

The loquacious Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and potential Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) get to know each other...

Two years ago when the dreaded script leak of this film happened, Tarantino swore he’d never shoot it. Well that was thankfully one promise he didn’t keep. At nearly three hours, The Hateful Eight is one of his longer films, yet it doesn’t feel that way. Every element works together harmoniously to create a gripping, intense thriller and a lyrical masterpiece, and one that is absolutely up there with his best. This is once again another instance of Quentin Tarantino truly conquering a genre by putting his own unique stamp on it – something that is a joy to watch in action and that becomes even more rewarding with repeated viewings. Maybe now that it has made its way onto Blu-ray and DVD, the distributors can sort out whatever dispute they were having so that we can finally have a tour of the 70mm roadshow version across the UK (while this was widely shown in the US, here it only screened in one London cinema). To see the film as Tarantino truly intended – in glorious 70mm (a vintage format that creates a greater scale onscreen), with extra footage and added intermission – is something that would make this an event film on an even grander scale. But until then, the version we have here still makes for a more than incredible experience and absolutely essential viewing.

~ by square-eyed-geek on May 9, 2016.

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